An amusing thing happened recently. The views on this blog shot up when, as I later learned, Mike Norton referenced it in a set of TikTok videos (here, here, here and here) and an Instagram post objecting to sexual banter between John Dehlin and his recently hired (and considerably younger) female cohost, Carah Burrell, who goes by “Nuancehoe” as her TikTok handle. Norton’s reason for this objection was that John had a prior (and for the last while publicly known—his allies have confirmed the relationship and the coworker with whom he had the extramarital sexual relationship has also discussed what took place) extramarital sexual relationship with a coworker, and it seemed inappropriate that John should again be saying these sorts of things with a coworker. For context, Facebook chats of Dehlin’s which were released from his prior extramarital relationship exhibit a similar moral failure mechanism: discussing, for example, sexual matters including from his marriage with the aforementioned coworker. Consequently, Norton’s concern is substantive. However, he did make one mistake: that of using the single when describing Dehlin’s extramarital activities rather than the plural. I haven’t published so far about this that I recall because I largely assumed that if people stuck with Dehlin after finding out about his rather exploitative sexual relationship with his coworker they simply wouldn’t care about additional ones (despite the additional serious issues which they raise).
Dehlin responded with his standard blog post (which he has reposted at least three times in the last twelve months) about how the Church is smearing him as are, inexplicably, some former supporters.
First, lest anyone misunderstand, Mike Norton is definitely not “the Church,” as should be abundantly clear to anyone who has followed his output, which typically criticizes the Church, or noted his rather freer than average use of colorful language. Anyway, Dehlin’s post also made the amusing and oft-related claim that he isn’t in it for the money, and the patently false claim that he would never make back the money he sacrificed by ceasing to work at Microsoft. I have for some time been wondering what I should write about next on this blog and I would like to put the question to my readers. Conveniently, Dehlin and Norton brought up the issues I was considering discussing.
Should I next write about:
1. Dehlin’s affairs (plural),
2. Disapproving Dehlin’s claim of financial martyrdom with a side helping of embezzlement and tax evasion,
3. Not work on blog posts but instead volunteer to do an AMA on Reddit,
4. Do episode-specific reviews of Mormon Stories episodes to identify inaccurate and deceptive information (i.e., fact checking; will necessarily be constrained by limited time and resources),
5. Other (please specify)?
Please vote and include any ideas you have in the comments section!
On 27 January, 2021, John Dehlin received his first Moderna vaccination. We of course know this because he tweeted about it from his iPhone.
There is, however, the potentially awkward question of how he received the vaccine at this point in time. You see, on 27 January, 2021, the vaccine was not being given to any group into which John Dehlin obviously fits as you can see by closely inspecting the description of groups to whom it was being distributed (https://www.huschblackwell.com/utah-state-by-state-covid-19-guidance) On the date he received the vaccine (27 January), the document notes the arrival of more doses but no change in guidance for qualifying to receive the vaccine. The most current guidance on eligibility for his vaccination date was received 21 January. It states in simple terms:
“The COVID-19 vaccines are currently available for healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, first responders, and K-12 teachers and school staff.” In order to determine how Dehlin got the vaccine, we simply need to determine which of these groups he did (or didn’t belong to):
healthcare workers – unlikely, he is a podcaster; he has no medical competence whatsoever that we are aware of, and whatever one might suppose about his bedside manner from his sonorous voice, this has little relevance for actual medicine
long-term care facility staff and residents – as much as many of us have argued Dehlin is a case of the inmates running the asylum, last I heard Dehlin still hasn’t even gotten licensed sufficiently to provide actual counseling (hence his reliance on the life coach track), and thus is not qualified to be employed at such a facility as anything much more interesting than a janitor
first responders – as much as Dehlin has made a business of chasing metaphorical ambulances, that isn’t quite the same thing as staffing a real one,
K-12 teachers and school staff – as much as some of us have noted that his grasp of a number of subjects (notably history) appears to sit somewhere at a grade school level, podcasting is, thankfully, not the same as public school, which potentially leads us to the final unlisted category of people who received vaccines at this point in time:
those who obtained the vaccine fraudulently by some mixture of lying, and falsifying employment documents.
Perhaps he convinced someone he was a religious leader and thus qualified under some other high priority person classification. Whatever the case may be, if someone can shine some further light on which of these categories best describes the conditions under which Dehlin received the first Moderna vaccine, and why some grade school teachers, healthcare workers, and first responders should by implication wait in line behind a podcaster (as well as the totality of medically compromised persons and senior citizens) I would appreciate your including it in the comments.
First, let’s be clear, both John’s proxies (time index 15:20 and 56:30) (which I have blogged about here) and Rosebud and even to some extent John (see for example the screen capture below of a message board post) have acknowledged that an extramarital sexual relationship occurred.
Is it possible that he might still have been considered temple worthy despite this? Since this depends on what their sexual interactions (and relationship more generally) consisted of, we can’t responsibly analyze Dehlin’s claim without discussing it, so buckle up your pants, since it seems clear enough John didn’t manage to…
Later on in the interview (time index 2:22:38) the Interviewer asked regarding this incident (I’m going to keep this quote in standard formatting but set it off with bold so that the interchange between Rosebud and the interviewer remains easier to read):
Interviewer: So that first, what you refer to as your first actual sexualized encounter with him…
Rosebud: Um hm.
Interviewer: Salt Lake, where you had been at the park first.
Interviewer: Is that correct?
Rosebud: And this was the, you’re talking about at the Quinn con-, cause my memories kind of all with the conferences. Quinn,…
Interviewer: that’s what I have is as,
Rosebud: 2011, August.
Interviewer: So I realize this might be uncomfortable, but, um, tell me about the actual sexual contact.
Rosebud: Um, we were naked and he had an orgasm.
Interviewer: He had an orgasm?
Rosebud: Yes, but not inside of me.
Interviewer: Okay, how did that come about?
Rosebud: Um, well, what I remember is [unintelligible]—how much detail to give you—is I don’t, I guess I don’t have a memory of all of it, but I remember it happening because I was on top of him and we were naked and he got really, really sweaty, like really, really like so much sweat, um, more than I’ve ever experienced. That’s really what I remember. It’s the how did it come about… it’s not, I, that’s my, that’s what I have in my memory.
Usually (there may be a few crazy exceptions to this somewhere I haven’t thought of but so far coming up empty) if a married woman to whom you are not married thinks she just had the best sexual experience of her life with you (as in the last line of the first excerpt) you are going to have an uphill battle for any reasonable person who knows what temple worthy means to think you fit that description. Nevertheless, let’s break this down and evaluate this encounter in terms of some of the elements likely to matter in the resultant council to determine whether Dehlin should be disfellowshipped or excommunicated:
Whether the sexual act(s) was(were) premeditated
Whether temple covenants were involved (whether endowed, sealed, etc)
The extent of the sexual activity
Whether such acts were repeated occurrences
Whether the individual who committed these acts confessed or demonstrated remorse or whether they attempted to conceal the act(s).
As Rosebud recalls the experience, there is abundant reason to believe that this was a premeditated encounter. Dehlin brought her to Utah from the east coast on the exceptionally thin pretext that she was the only one who could introduce D. Michael Quinn at a live podcast interview. At the time she suspected that this was part of a plan to seduce her and extracted a promise that he would not do this and, indeed, would not come to her hotel room. When she was in town for the podcast interview, and Dehlin was there with her at the park he was rubbing her back and actively attempting to persuade her to allow him to come to her hotel room, obtaining her consent to do so with, reasonably, the assumption (given the reasons for Rosebud’s previously extracting a commitment to not come to the hotel room) that sexual activities would take place once there. The entire episode takes place with relatively clear planning and intent to engage in extramarital sexual activity on the part of Dehlin.
Both parties were endowed and sealed to their spouses, which means they would be regarded as maximally responsible for infidelity. However, it may be worth noting that even if they had not been married but had been two endowed single persons engaged in the same actions, this still would have likely been grounds for restriction of church membership. Or, if only one, for example Dehlin, had been endowed, the endowed party would likely have received restrictions or suspension of membership while the non-endowed party may not have. (I consulted with a former bishop for a good deal of the information here.)
Regarding the extent of the sexual activity in this first case there was at least meeting in a hotel room for concealment, removal of all clothing, lying on top of one another while naked, and enough further undescribed application of pressure, friction, and lust to result in both an orgasm and an apparently Noachian quantity of sweat (both on the part of Dehlin). For all practical intents and purposes, this is sex though, for those who may be afraid of sex after reading this description, I hasten to add that not everyone sweats this much. Penetration is not strictly a requirement for sexual activity outside of marriage to result in various restrictions of church membership despite occasional misconceptions to the contrary. Sexual activities also took place on multiple occasions, making it virtually impossible that any reasonable person would conclude this was some sort of accident of passion. In October of this same year, she interacted sexually with Dehlin in a vehicle in the parking lot of a government building in Washington, D.C. I am again using the bolding convention for quotes (Time index 0:43:08)
Rosebud: We went to a conference—this is confusing, but, we went to a conference in October in Washington, D.C., and we did have some, and uh, he. And this is, this is the part where you know this is consensual. I’m enjoying it, um, he, I just have a memory of, like, we’re in a parked car somewhere and he’s putting his hands down my pants. And it was flirtatious and fun, but it was also, like, scary too because it was like he, he wanted to get caught, but he didn’t. Like he was playing with, “I might get caught,” and that’s exciting sexually. And that actually happened in, um, August at the Quinn conference in Salt Lake City too. I, I remember him, he was like, “Let’s go find a, let’s go find a room here in the church,” and I was like, “that’s crazy, I mean, we’re already like, this is bad enough as it is; you’re telling the public that you’re Mr. Family Man and you’re playing with getting caught right now at an event where there are all these people around.” And I’m, you know, it was, so there was something, there was something I think that was erotic with that for him, which was, of course, very scary to me. Um, so, yeah. I’m glad this is being recorded. So that, that was in, so anyway. So there was the Quinn conference, and then what I told you about the car was in the Wash, at the Washington D.C. conference, which would have been, um, probably October, September, or October 2011.
Later on in the cognitive interview (time index 2:26:04) during a Q&A period, the interviewer asked Rosebud for more information regarding the Washington, D.C. Conference car encounter:
Interviewer: So then after that Quinn podcast there was the incident in D.C. in October, and that was in the car, correct?
Interviewer: And you said he had his hands in your pants?
Rosebud: Correct, we were parked outside, like, I don’t know. We were in Washington, D.C. and I don’t remember where it was but I remember we were in this parking lot. There was this camera because it was being surveilled because it was some sort of important federal building, and I don’t know what. So I just remember the camera, his hand was in my pants. And I remember him, I remember a photo that someone took of him right after that incident in the car where he’s, like, sprawled out on a bench and I’m just realizing, you know, he’s, I look at the photo and I’m like, yeah, he’s ho-, he’s horny, I mean. Or because I know what happened right before that and, but again, you’re getting images because that’s how my memory works. Is, okay.
Interviewer: So, um, when his hand was in your pants in the car what was he doing?
Rosebud: Um, he had his hands in my, in my va-gi-na.
Interviewer: Okay, and tell me about what you were doing while he was doing that in the car.
Rosebud: Um, well, I was in the, I was in my seat. And he was in his seat. And I was enjoying a little then pushing his hand away a little and then enjoying it a little and then saying, “there are cameras, why are we doing this, like, this is crazy. I don’t like this; look there [are] cameras.”
Here again, John has brought Rosebud to a somewhat private location in order to engage in sexual activities. She is there for a conference rather than a podcast so the reasons for Rosebud’s presence here are less explicitly contrived than in the previous incident: here she was serving in a legitimate role as well as meeting up with Dehlin sexually. They are also in a car in an isolated parking lot rather than a hotel, which is a lesser attempt at concealment or at least a more ad hoc one. However, the sexual interaction is still ongoing in a deliberate fashion a couple of months after the first. It is fairly clear that the previous sexual encounter did not lead to efforts on the part of Dehlin to implement additional safeguards as it might if it were some sort of accident of passion or if it were a situation he were attempting to avoid. Indeed, given the repeated encounters I am not sure how to interpret this if not part of a continued deliberate sexual relationship with his coworker outside of marriage that in general involved substantial planning and effort to carry out, although portions of it may legitimately have been improvised (e.g., in front of which federal building Dehlin parked his car).
The final circumstantial situation that would be considered in a council to determine the status of Dehlin’s Church membership going forward would be whether he attempted to conceal his actions or whether he confessed them, demonstrated remorse, and was genuinely trying to repent. It seems fairly clear that Dehlin was portraying himself both publicly (before the audience) and to Church authorities at that time and subsequently as living in line with a standard of chastity that he was not even remotely in compliance with. None of the correspondence Dehlin released from the councils that summoned and later excommunicated him contains any information related to chastity as they almost certainly would have if these issues had been known at that time or had been a subject of his counseling with his bishop or stake president. Thus, in this case, the fact that this issue is not mentioned strongly suggests that he did not address the issue of his sexual misconduct with his church leaders at any point before or during his excommunication for apostasy. In any event, it is nearly certain that had he reported any of the sexual activity discussed in this blog post prior to the Larsen interview (which took place in the six months prior to the interview) his leaders would have first informed him that he was not worthy to enter the temple, and convened a council to determine if other specific restrictions should be placed on his membership as part of his process to regain admission to the temple as well as return to basic norms of morality.
Consequently, Dehlin’s claim that he was temple worthy except for tithing appears to be wholly false, designed to elicit sympathy from his audience by portraying him in a morally positive light while participating in sexual activity inconsistent with his claims, wholly deceptive virtue signaling. Dehlin has thus shown a willingness to deliberately deceive his audience when it is in his self-interest while simultaneously risking the moral credibility of his organization and community by carrying on an extramarital sexual relationship with an employee.
Often it is difficult to tell when a public figure is telling the truth. We encounter this problem frequently enough with politicians. It can be complicated by the fact that often enough their constituents may not even seem to particularly care whether they are telling the truth or not if they are ideologically aligned. But a large part of the difficulty comes from the fact that their audience may largely lack the information that would allow them to test or verify the accuracy of the statement of a media report, a public figure, or other source of information.
One approach that is sometimes used on an ad hoc basis for resolving the trust problem is to use the few facts one can actually check as a proxy for the larger set of issues that a given source discusses. This obviously is not a perfect approach and, while informative, people are often not good at it. In one example (of it not working), Michael Crichton shared the following anecdote about Murray Gell-Mann, a famous physicist,
I probably ought to bring this all back to John Dehlin, given my blog’s title. So if John Dehlin states something that we are not in a position to independently verify, how much credence should we give it? Let’s explore this question using some of the John Dehlin documents released by Rosebud. When John Dehlin closed down the Mormon Stories Conferences, he stated the reason in his Strategy Announcement for 2012 as, “We will no longer be holding monthy conferences (ran out of time/energy/money, but we are open to holding occasional conferences in the future, depending on interest, resources and support.” Let’s investigate this claim a little bit. First, we should be frank and say that it is really several claims:
We ran out of time,
we ran out of energy,
we ran out of money.
This is the explanation he gave to his audience for why the conferences (which appear to have been wildly popular) were going away. Now, I want to start by acknowledging that there are some limited truths here: First, John was going back to graduate school, so his personal time and energy resources were facing some additional constraints. It is also true that he frequently made appearances at the conferences, and it is likely that he would have been less able to do that during school. However, they had plenty of other attractions (including other celebrity speakers from across the faith/unfaith spectrum) and he wasn’t the one running the conferences; they were primarily run by Rosebud (her pseudonym), who had just been fired after the relationship foundered and Dehlin revealed their ongoing extramarital sexual relationship to the chairman of OSF Board. Thus, while John may not have had time or energy for them, he was also not particularly necessary to them. The person who was necessary for them, and who wanted to keep doing them was purged by Dehlin for relationship and power reasons. So in a sense it is true that he ran out of time and energy, but he ran out of them because he architected the firing of the person who had them, and had been furnishing them very reliably for the past two years.
The fact that Dehlin was not personally necessary to the success of the conferences is brought into sharper focus in the 10 August, 2012 letter in which Dehlin pays an interesting amount of attention to the risk of Rosebud leading a mutiny against him.
At first glance it may seem ridiculous to imagine someone leading Mormon Stories in a revolt against John Dehlin, but he was about to devote a large portion of his attention to a Ph.D. program and if Rosebud continued running conferences it would potentially give her a very substantial base of power. She had already shown herself to be quite capable of running the conferences profitably with little input from him. If she demonstrated that she could run them entirely without him he ran the risk of the foundation deriving more of its income and a larger part of its influence from conferences and communities (which she ran) than from the podcast (which he ran). The platform and position of relative strength that continuing to run the conferences would have afforded her combined with the fact that he needed to conceal his sexual misconduct in order to avoid getting excommunicated for something less romantic than apostasy would have made her a very serious threat because of the combination of audience size and damning information. Perhaps Dehlin thought about what he would do under those circumstances. In fairness, I can’t blame him too much for exhibiting impulses toward self-preservation; I do, after all, run an anonymous blog.
His remaining claim here is that they ran out of money. This is an interesting claim on multiple levels. First, because he gave himself a $30,000+ raise the next year, so terrible were their finances. Second, if we look at the OSF profit and loss statement from 2012, it shows income from the conferences of $33,050.09 and an operating expense related to the conferences of $24,124.60, leaving an apparent profit of $8,925.49 from the conferences representing ~37% return on investment from that source. Thus, if we give John’s statement the gravity it deserves, this nearly $9000 profit was as a dark cloud threatening them with bankruptcy. [Hear the threatening thunder claps in the background!!!] Now, Dehlin could argue that the conferences lost money in 2011 per the 2011 profit and loss statement; however, it appears that OSF’s accounting related to the conferences may have left out some conference-related income from that year. In a series of emails dated 6-8 August, it becomes apparent that OSF’s accounting had not included income from the 2011 Circling the Wagons, then OSF’s most lucrative conference, in the conference earnings.
In these emails, the conference’s organizer had conservatively estimated the profit to have been $6,700 or greater, with the possibility of significant additional upside.
If the organizer is correct, then the income for the conference was >=$10,525. The 2011 profit and loss statement gives the total conference income as $14,750. Unless we suppose that all of the other conferences that year had income totaling $4,225 or less, then it seems reasonable to conclude that profits from this conference were not included in that year’s financials in agreement with the organizer’s concerns. If this is the case, then the conferences were also profitable in 2011, contrary to the representation in the 2011 financial statement (though they can perhaps be forgiven for some poor bookkeeping at this early point in their history).
Whether or not the income from this conference was ever appropriately recognized in the totals, it is clear that the conferences were ultimately quite profitable and positively impacted OSF’s finances. The analysis thus far also ignores the value of the conferences within the integrated business model for driving donations to the other segments of the business such as the podcast. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that some donors, seeing what was happening with the conferences and associated buzz, saw donation to the podcast as the most straightforward vehicle for expressing the support of the combined venture. Looking at their finances beyond the specific contributions of the conference, however, Dehlin’s 10 August letter, cited above, notes that they had $50K in cash reserves at the point he asked the conferences organizer to leave, making the claim that they “ran out of money” simply untenable.
Taken together we can see that of the reasons John Dehlin gave for the decision to end the Mormon Stories Conferences—that they “ran out of time/energy/money”—some were partially true in the case of time/energy (he had fired the person—his extramarital sexual partner—who provided that time and energy) and the final reason, money, was completely untrue, though he did apparently also get the money they had been paying Rosebud thus reducing the amount of money available for any other purpose. Thus we see that John Dehlin made some partially true statements about the reasons for the Mormon Stories conferences ending, and added to them some blatant lies in order to protect himself from the untimely revelation of his philandering. I submit that Dehlin’s viewers/readers should evaluate his statements that they cannot personally verify in light of the untruth of his statements which we can evaluate. I expect to release one or more additional blog posts showing some further straightforward examples of Dehlin’s deliberately deceiving his audience relatively soon.
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I genuinely hate this claim for two reasons. One is that it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny [https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/blog/2017/10/11/gay-youth-suicides-utah]; there is no published evidence that Latter-day Saint youth with these orientations suicide at higher rates than non-Latter-day Saints with these orientations. Apart from issues of orientation, a study by Hilton, Fellingham and Leon [https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/155/5/413/171404] showed that active participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah appeared to exhibit a strong protective effect relative to inactive members in Utah (by a factor of 3-7) and nonmembers in Utah (by a factor of 3-6). But the picture is more multifactorial and complicated than this picture even. Individuals living at high altitude also appear to encounter increased risks (see, for example, this article [https://www.vice.com/en/article/xwnpxj/the-chilling-mystery-of-high-altitude-suicides] from Vice that even includes a suspicious reference to the Church for good measure). Because much of the North American population of the Church lives in the relatively high-altitude Intermountain West, these factors have likely not entirely passed the Church by, despite the protective effect discussed above. Individuals with homosexual orientations do have some added risks though this too is complicated by the fact many of these risks are not a consequence of orientation per se but of other mental health challenges. The simplistic way that John Dehlin talks about and sloganized these issues is itself a known risk factor. By the way he discusses these things, he effectively trades risks of suicide for rhetorical points. An informative post from someone who actually is trying to do some good for the issue of suicide in LGBT populations recommends (item 7-9 in their list of 12 Guidelines for talking about suicide in safe and accurate ways) to those addressing these issues:
“DON’T attribute a suicide death to a single factor (such as bullying or discrimination) or say that a specific anti-LGBT law or policy will “cause” suicide. Suicide deaths are almost always the result of multiple overlapping causes, including mental health issues that might not have been recognized or treated. Linking suicide directly to external factors like bullying, discrimination or anti-LGBT laws can normalize suicide by suggesting that it is a natural reaction to such experiences or laws. It can also increase suicide risk by leading at-risk individuals to identify with the experiences of those who have died by suicide. 8. DON’T risk spreading false information by repeating unsubstantiated rumors or speculation about suicide deaths or why they occurred. Accurate information about the reasons for a suicide death can take days and even weeks to surface. Speculation about those reasons, even based on initial statements from friends or family, can fuel false narratives about suicide (for example, claims that multiple suicide deaths occurred because of the results of the 2016 elections) and contribute to the risk of suicide contagion. Organizations and advocates have a duty to rigorously confirm such incidents with medical authorities (or rely on credible media reporting) before commenting on them in public. 9. DON’T talk about suicide “epidemics” or suicide rates for LGBT people. Remember that sexual orientation and gender identity are not recorded at the time of death, so we do not have data on suicide rates or deaths among LGBT people. In addition, presenting suicide as a trend or a widespread occurrence (for example, tallying suicide deaths that occur in proximity to an external event) can encourage vulnerable individuals to see themselves as part of a larger story, which may elevate their suicide risk.”
Please, John, do not be so careless with the lives of my brothers and sisters.
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy subtly excoriates Mr. Wickham, “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends — whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.” What Austen’s Darcy said of Mr. Wickham turns out to be remarkably applicable to John Dehlin (as evidenced by the fact of my remarking about it), manifesting itself in a predictable cycle of new followers entering Dehlin’s (and Open Stories Foundation’s) orbit, becoming disillusioned with him/them, and leaving. A similar process appears to play out among his board members leading to the periodic mass extinction events that have occasionally thinned the ranks of Open Stories Foundation board and staff as they have found him unreceptive to correction.
Most recently though, Dehlin appears to have realized that he has burned many of his bridges with the Elizabeth generation (perhaps in consequence of Kwaku’s John Dehlin exposé video) and has moved on to courting the Lydias as audience for his Mormon Stories Podcast. For those of you who didn’t follow what I just did there, after limiting some of his social media exposure to blunt the negative effect of the Rosebud affair (though I note he has since reopened), he has decided to pursue the TikTok generation. In order to do this, he has employed a TikTok celebrity with the handle nuancehoe. Some people are born with awkward names, but she seems to have chosen this one… …for some reason (if anyone knows that backstory, please drop it in the comments for me). The video announcing her employment by Mormon Stories seems less than subtle, including as it did at least one prominent vulgarity. In any case, it appears that she is an exmormon content creator with a following of some 41 kilofollowers. Apparently TikTok uses the metric system.
Considering that it would not be wise to give Dehlin uncontested free reign with an audience unfamiliar with the shenanigans and meltdowns he has periodically imposed on the exmormon world (no one should have Dehlin administered to them who has not carefully read, understood, and signed the informed consent form), this has made it necessary to venture into video. Thus it is with mild amusement that I announce the dearjohndehlin TikTok channel; because even Lydia deserves better than that, even if she was an idiot.
One question that has received a significant share of the attention in the discussion surrounding the documents released by John Dehlin and Rosebud is whether Dehlin’s actions constituted sexual harassment. This has, of course, been complicated by differing a priori definitions of harassment that different participants in the conversation embrace as starting points to the conversation. It has also been complicated by the nature of the relationship between Rosebud and Dehlin; it clearly contained substantial consensual components; it also clearly contained enough problematic elements that it eventually melted down. The documents that are available tell us about the development of some components of that relationship, and some of the circumstances surrounding the subsequent release of radiation to which all of the Board members except Natasha Helfer succumbed. However, as far as I am aware the documentary evidence does not directly address the two most serious claims (non-consensual groping and non-consensual recording of a sexual act). This is also not surprising. It would have been extremely imprudent for Dehlin to have communicated about these actions in a durable form assuming that they occurred as described, and so the absence of available documentary evidence tells us little. Rosebud’s interview discussion of the non-consensual groping point also contains valuable nuance that, while still not making what Dehlin did appropriate, helps explain how he might have had a differing perspective on the incident than that of Rosebud. Dehlin has not, to my knowledge, specifically commented on the recording charge, which also happens to be a criminal act; this could be taken as a tacit admission or simply as reflecting a desire to not further disseminate a charge of which most of his followers are unaware. At the very least, the recording charge fits hand-in-glove with Dehlin’s penchant for recording people who have asked him not to such as his stake president (also here), and basically any other case where he thought it might be to his advantage to do so.
Because the documentary evidence does not allow us to go any further with the two claims mentioned above I will, in this post, instead focus on the question of whether the interactions between Rosebud and John Dehlin satisfied the specific definition of sexual harassment that was later employed in the OSF’s 22 March 2018 Sexual Harassment Policy. Before I go further on this point, I want to acknowledge the influence of a number of comments and a post by James Patterson on this topic. If anything, this post is in part due to the fact that he took too long to post part 2, but in saying this I say it with the greatest respect: one mark of a good author is surely that one is impatient to read the sequel. Indeed, from this point on I am essentially assuming you have read Patterson’s post (so please do that if you haven’t already). A key point Patterson makes is that John himself claims never to have violated this policy; thus, this question will be central to this post. Patterson was also essentially correct about the response of Dehlin’s proxies and supporters. They have made several attempts to claim that he wasn’t in a position of power to which she was subordinate, or that they saw themselves as equals, or that they were treated equally. However, this reasoning requires us to ignore the documentary evidence on several important points as I will outline below.
To begin with, though, we should state the OSF’s functional definition of sexual harassment, “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
This statement is constructed with inclusive language; sexual harassment can comprise a number of subsets of the expansive definition. I will focus narrowly on the following: “other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” That John Dehlin and Rosebud took part in verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature is beyond dispute at this point; Rosebud has directly acknowledged that this relationship occurred, providing documentation supporting its occurrence and proxies for Dehlin have said the same, releasing documents supporting this fact. The question then becomes whether “submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment…” I will argue that in this case, 1) we have some degree of evidence that it did affect her employment in both positive and negative ways depending on the state and phase of the relationship, and 2) that they were not in a situation of equality but she was, at least in terms of power dynamics if not necessarily always in terms of discourse, his subordinate.
This is an interesting example because it shows Rosebud being flown across the country not to attend a conference (which would have been much more germane to her actual role in the organization) but to introduce a podcast guest for whom she would have little more significance than had she been a random stranger. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Quinn does not seem to be a major focus of the story so much as the consequent best-in-lifetime-to-that-point sexual encounter which seems to have been a prime motivation for the trip. Though apparently not ultimately unwelcome, this interacts in an interesting way with OSF’s definition of sexual harassment, ” submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment” in that the only plausible reason from her perspective for her to be brought, via airline to Utah was to participate in an erotic encounter. Introducing someone on an audio podcast can literally be done over the phone rather than while debiting a non-profit expense account for air travel, and it seems a logical stretch to think that this air travel would have taken place were it not for the erotic side benefit. Thus it also seems to have been specifically beneficial to her career at that point that Dehlin saw her as a potentially willing participant in an erotic encounter. Thus “submission to… …this conduct… …implicitly affects an individual’s employment,” though in this instance the effect to her employment was beneficial, it still seems to satisfy the definition as stated.
Later on, the relationship (obviously given that we are hearing about it) fell apart and created a variety of predictably destructive consequences. Although, I expect there are other document sets that would yield fruitful insights into the question of harassment, I am going to focus on a single email from Dehlin to Rosebud, because it illustrates the points that I still need to make in order to formally complete the argument. Before doing this, I will point out that for those who are want more color on other aspects of the harassment question, Rosebud’s cognitive interview provides goes into great detail on how “submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly… …creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.” The email, dated 10 August 2012, is essentially Dehlin’s letter inviting Rosebud to leave. I have excerpted it slightly in order to focus on the parts that are important to this argument, though the redacted document was recently available on Rosebud’s site. I have a copy of the partially redacted document in my possession, but out of respect for Rosebud, will not link it as she is having others redact it (and other documents) a little bit more. I will hopefully link it when it again becomes available and will likely edit out these explanatory comments about its availability since they are ultimately only a temporary distraction from a more interesting argument. John writes:
To summarize the first two paragraphs Rosebud was tremendously effective at building OSF and expanding its offerings, but they fell in love (on purpose part of the time?). John claims that he allowed her into leadership in part because of the relationship, “And so I let you into the leadership of the organization. More and more. Because you were super effective, because I loved working with you, but also because you were insistent on staying.” This is, of course, consistent with the picture drawn above of her being included in some activities for explicitly relational reasons, and Dehlin acknowledges that, in addition to her significant competencies, he invited her to her role “because I loved working with you…” This is thus, once again, an example of “other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment,…” Once again, in this instance it was a positive career effect at that stage. It obviously didn’t remain so, since Dehlin then asks her to leave on explicitly relational grounds: “But you promised me that you would never try to take the organization from me. And you promised me that you would go when I needed you to go.
However, the issue here is not how someone feels about their work situations (obviously there was plenty of bonhomie between the two of them while they were making out and chatting about it). The issue here is the question of who had power and can be shown to have used that power in order to make employment-related decisions.
“I am at the heart of this organization for better or for worse, just like Oprah is for hers. And I’m asking you to please not play games with me or with the board and try to operate against my will.” How much power should we assume Dehlin within his organization if he literally warns Rosebud not to attempt to, “operate against my will.” At the risk of being distracted by how silly Dehlin sounds when he gets on a power trip of sufficient amplitude, he makes clear that his will is law in the Open Stories Foundation and should not be toyed with. “Because it’s my organization at the end of the day. At least as it is now. Someday we may have a meaningfully participatory board. but we don’t have that now, and I don’t have the time to interact with such a board.” If, as Dehlin claims, they don’t have “a meaningfully participatory board” that basically only leaves him as functional decision maker, making it difficult to escape the conclusion that anything done by the “Board” is effectively done by him with the legal aid, consent, and approval of a rubber stamp.
When Dehlin says, “I was the one who insisted on your being paid at all. And I was the one who pushed for your raises all summer. That was me.” he clearly asserts that he is functionally in control of her employment and pay. Thus whatever one might like to believe about whether Dehlin and Rosebud were equals at the OSF, it is clear that Dehlin certainly did not think so. “We can’t work together and be former lovers. And I can’t be your lover any more. And there’s no where else in the organization for you to go. Because I’m the only employee.” They could work together while they were lovers but not while they are former lovers according to Dehlin who, functionally at least, believes himself essentially the embodiment of the Open Stories Foundation. Because Dehlin is making the termination of her employment explicitly related to their past “verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” it is clearly in keeping with OSF’s definition of sexual harassment.
The day after writing this email, he cut off her Mormon Stories computer infrastructure access while she was running a conference, in effect sabotaging her. When she asked him to send her a new password he responded:
There are only two ways I can think of to analyze this situation. Either Dehlin had effectively unchecked ability to fire her and impose sanctions and thus they were not equals under any reasonable definition of that term, or he was engaging in straightforward relational aggression and abusing power that he only incidentally happened to possess. His defenders are welcome to let me know which interpretation they prefer.
Some may have noticed the sudden appearance of various John Dehlin documents appearing on the internet. For those who are surprised to see this and wonder what has happened. Let me sum up for you (WARNING: this post will be updated as I am able to cover more of this episode); the following happened as lead up to where we currently are:
All this, however, was in some sense a prelude to what came next, which is that Rosebud published documentary evidence supporting her claims from her cognitive interview here. This is where most (though not necessarily all) of the John Dehlin documents came from that you are seeing on the internet. This is by far the most damaging release Dehlin has faced to date. For literary purposes, I titled this (effectively) announcement post with reference to the Joseph Smith papers (hereafter JSP); however, the differences are at least as important in understanding the allusion as the similarities. Unlike the goal for the JSP, this is not a complete document set, and does not try to be. It is only the documents deemed to be relevant to establishing specific claims made in the cognitive interview referenced above. Thus balance requires us to consider both what is there and what may exist but may not be included. This was also the case with the documents released through Reel and company. Indeed, one of the document releases purports to show that the context for the texts released by Reel and Dehlin’s other proxies was rather different from what was portrayed (e.g., they started sexting the day that Dehlin published he was rebuffed her advances—apparently he forgot to mention that). But let’s be clear: just because the shoe is on the other foot doesn’t mean that we can abandon all critical appraisal of the documents, their significance, and the motivations behind both their production, collection, selection, and presentation. They should be analyzed just as critically and carefully as those ones previously released by those representing the interests of Dehlin and company.
That said, these documents, which include collections of Facebook messages, emails, hotel receipts, and other corroborating documentary evidence appear to broadly support Rosebud’s allegations of an adulterous relationship further complicated by power dynamics. Indeed, it is fair to say that these documents cast Dehlin in a rather bad light at times.
The Facebook messages display Dehlin sharing sexual intimacies with someone other than his wife including sharing information about his wife’s sexual preferences that is highly inappropriate and should serve as a warning to anyone who ever might in the future consider sharing sensitive information with him in a relationship of assumed trust. Dehlin also shares details about his own sexual challenges that are likely going to become the subject of grotesque memes. The fact that Dehlin was claiming to be temple worthy while we have documentary evidence in which he acknowledges sexting and carrying on a sexual relationship while traveling to conferences with his then-time coworker makes it now a matter of evidence that he lied to his audience and ecclesiastical leaders. Other significant and serious allegations are also on the table. Kwaku’s video had a tagline associated with it: “And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.” -Doctrine & Covenants 1:3 This appears to be about where we are at. That said, after folks have finished pitching them from the housetops, the lasting import of the documents will likely come down to further analysis. Pundits may rise for a day, but historians end up on top in the long-term.
Feel free to subscribe to the blog for continuing coverage and analysis of the document release. Feel free to comment on any of the documents included in the release in the comment section. Also, if you have John Dehlin documents you think should receive greater sunshine you can contact Rosebud via her email address listed on her site.
It is important to first understand why one would lock down a social media property and why one would not do so. Under normal circumstances, if one’s advertising and promotion are through social media it is desirable to keep them as openly available as possible as one attracts new prospects this way and can thus increase the reach of ones messaging. However, if one is expecting unfavorable information to come out; for example, information that might damage ones credibility, standing, or future viability as a public figure, then it makes sense to lock down ones properties in order to blunt the effect. Because his social media channels tend to be the most effective way of reaching his supporters, by locking these down he protects his supporters from receiving information that might affect their willingness to support him. The proximate cause is clear enough: Rosebud (his former extramarital romantic partner and OSF employee who recently published her podcast account of his misdeeds) has indicated that she has acquired a website and is going to be making a fairly complete set of documents from her extramarital relationship/employment with John Dehlin and Open Stories Foundation available for all to see. (I expect to cover these releases when they occur, so follow/subscribe to the blog for updates.)
So what has Dehlin done to lock down his social media/communication properties? To start with, a little while ago he announced that he would segregate his various social media streams. By compartmentalizing them by theme he can limit the reception of any adverse information in the event that he responds to various audience segments. It’s a little bit like the concept behind the transverse bulkheads on the Titanic. Historically, he has also adjusted the level of posting restrictions on his Facebook properties in order to allow or restrict comments. Currently, his personal page exhibits stricter posting requirements than his Dr. John Dehlin Facebook and the Mormon Stories page evaluated from a Facebook that is not a subscriber to any of the above. We’ll see how the settings change as things evolve.
In addition to the expected Facebook lock down, which we’ve seen previously in events such as his excommunication media blitz, he has also locked down his Twitter account as seen below preventing non-followers from either reading or replying to his tweets, and providing a measure of security against adverse messaging.
Obviously, Dehlin sees the coming release as an informational threat, which to my thinking lends a certain amount of credibility to it by itself. If one wishes to malign Dehlin with falsehood they can do that at any time, but his social media are usually open to preserve their role in advertising and attracting new followers (he has always been better at making them then keeping them over the long term). Locking these properties down only makes sense if he perceives Rosebud’s release as posing a more credible threat to the support of his audience than the decreased ability of his social media properties to attract new audience and engage in messaging in support of his purposes.
John Dehlin is no longer alone in presiding over the lengthiest podcasts in Mormondom. I doubt he’s happy about the fact, and not just because of competition in the normal sense. Rosebud, John Dehlin’s onetime lover/OSF employee, gave a 3.5 hr interview describing her experiences with John Dehlin. I have now listened to it twice through to make sure I have a decent grasp of the contents (though in something that extensive the Lion King warning applies, “There is far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found…”). That said, here are some of the highlights of what I found (or low-lights, some of this stuff is fairly horrible). I will state at this point that this post will include some sexual descriptions that some may find uncomfortable. I’ll try and nudge those down the page a bit so no one gets ambushed without their consent… There are also tax allegations and some other odds and ends. Overarching the whole thing is how Rosebud took the OSF for a time to a whole new level of significance before John pulled the plug on it.
Rosebud first wrote John Dehlin after encountering his podcast and finding herself in a marriage in which her husband was a believer and she was functionally not (she believed after a fashion but was deeply concerned about issues related to child abuse and thought Church leaders systematically mishandled them). She also reports receiving a severe lack of empathy from a husband who she later concluded was autistic. With the backdrop of a complicated faith situation complicating a difficult marriage she reached out to Dehlin and volunteered to help in his organization. Dehlin invited her and her family to attend the Book of Mormon Musical when it came out as part of a publicity push involving Laurie Goodstein that got him written up in the New York Times. Dehlin asked Rosebud in the midst of that trip where she thought the future lay for those who found themselves in various states of unbelief within the larger Mormon cultural context.
She unfolded to him a vision of communities actualized through initial participation in location-specific Facebook groups that could then serve as the basis for organizing events within local communities. This would allow unbelievers to gain the kind of community and support which some, regrettably, lose in the midst of faith crises. Within this model of community building, she organized conferences, some of them, frankly, wildly successful. These included conferences for LGBT people such as Circling the Wagons. A key ingredient in her model was fostering an environment in which believing and unbelieving people could all get along together. This allowed OSF’s influence to expand wildly as they were able to access thought leaders from the normative Latter-day Saint intelligentsia as well as those more critical of the Church. Though Dehlin had initial concerns about the financial viability of such an approach, the events also drew large quantities of donation and appear to have precipitated a major increase in backing. Indeed, I strongly suspect that if she had been allowed to continue, and if he could have refrained from alienating her, Dehlin would now preside over an empire substantially more powerful, productive, and wealthy than anything he has since accomplished, even in recent years.
Unfortunately for this enterprise, the relationship between Rosebud and John Dehlin became complicated by an extramarital sexual relationship, as Dehlin’s friends also, indeed, confirm. Very early on in their relationship (2011) they had been engaged in an extramarital erotic relationship. Rosebud details her relationship with John Dehlin including the sexual encounters to the extent possible (some of these apparently weren’t that memorable). To start with I should make it very clear that there was no completed sexual intercourse. She maintains that this was the case, and as far as I can tell this is corroborated by anyone else who has had anything to say on the subject. As she reports it, on one occasion they are naked together (this happened on multiple occasions) and she initiates sex and Dehlin is unable to achieve an erection. She notes regarding this that Dehlin told her prior to this happening of another extramarital sexual partner with whom this happened. On another occasion they are both naked and she is on top of Dehlin and he has an orgasm (though, again, not inside of her). On another occasion they were in a parked car and he engaged in heavy petting in front of the building’s (apparently a federal government building) security camera, which she was rather concerned with. In this regard, she found that he apparently liked sexual pursuits that involved some risk of getting caught including at host’s houses and other similar situations in which he had to talk her into participating overcoming her concerns about detection.
Her discussion of the non-consensual groping incident is nuanced. I appreciated that she did not overstate the case on this, though I think it still remains a concerning incident within a whole concerning context. However, the most troubling single erotic incident was the time that he recorded her masturbating over Skype without her consent and after specifically being asked not to and agreeing not to, a criminal act in the state of New Hampshire, where Rosebud was at the time:
The allegation here is thus the making, by John Dehlin, of non-consensual pornography, an extreme violation of both Rosebud’s trust and the law. This interaction apparently happened in the course of their alternately working on OSF business and their extramarital relationship. She notes his propensity to record others without their consent in order to place them at a disadvantage. Dehlin most notably did this with his Stake President while pretending to repent, later releasing a lengthy transcript of their recorded conversations. Rosebud also recounts incidents where Dehlin mistreated her but was placated when she provided sexual contact, and relates how her now former husband used her relationship with Dehlin and the threat of exposure to gain an advantageous position in their divorce.
At one point John Dehlin asks Rosebud why she doesn’t have an eating disorder. Apparently, the other woman with whom John was in an illicit relationship prior to Rosebud had an eating disorder. Rosebud also mentions knowing who this woman is, though she does not disclose this information.
Rosebud also describes Dehlin engaging in inurement. This is effectively use of OSF funds for personal purposes. The incident in question is when Dehlin is going to school and essentially says that his listeners can donate to the 501c3 to pay for his schooling and groceries and other household expenses. She alleges that he was warned that this wasn’t allowed under tax law, and did this anyway. I will say, having seen records of him saying these things both long ago and more recently in connection with this allegation, that the events are not even in question. He definitely said these things. I am not, regrettably, an expert in the tax law related to non-profit foundations, so I can’t evaluate the law. However, if she is correct on the law, I expect that the IRS will have a few things to discuss with the OSF—they can have their letters contact his letters.
One last interesting aspect of the interview that is worth mentioning is that Rosebud alleges that John Dehlin had been angling for a specific kind of excommunication, an “honorable excommunication” as she terms it, fashioned after the September Six since at least the time that he interviewed D. Michael Quinn. He had her flown in to participate in this event, which included sexual activity on the side, ostensibly to introduce Quinn. In order to accomplish this, Dehlin had to ensure that his excommunication involved no taint of sexual impropriety (though he himself apparently enjoyed plenty of such taint). It isn’t 100% clear whether his temporary return to church and the associated podcast (which she, with some justification, terms his fake repentance podcast) were motivated entirely by the need to position himself relative to her for his excommunication or whether a desire to blunt the effects the Greg Smith article eventually published in Interpreter was also an influential factor. Regardless of the specific proximate cause—Rosebud or the Smith article—the strategic goal seems very much to be to clear away any potentially premature or less than picturesque causes of excommunication in order to maximize his control of the narrative and the resultant celebrity credibility. As I have written about elsewhere, this involved a certain amount of deception in the area of document releases and raming.
Ultimately, this story is still developing because in addition to the interview she is releasing a large (very large, it sounds like) cache of documents via James Patterson. While I see Rosebud’s account as highly credible, the documents will allow us all (both those who believe various portions of her account and those who disbelieve) to evaluate the evidence in detail. Feel free to comment on both this post and aspects of the interview that I have not adequately covered (of which there are necessarily many). Also feel free to subscribe to the blog as I will undoubtedly have a good bit to say by way of analysis as the documents come out.